Home / Diane Knopf, Warden of Mission Institution, et al. v. Gurkirpal Singh Khela

Diane Knopf, Warden of Mission Institution, et al. v. Gurkirpal Singh Khela

The BCCLA is an intervener in the case.

This case concerns the critical role that the provincial superior courts play in ensuring that prisoners have access to meaningful judicial review when their rights inside the prison walls are violated. Among the issues on appeal in this case is whether the great writ of habeas corpus should be construed narrowly or broadly. A habeas corpus application is a legal action that allows a prisoner to challenge in provincial court conditions of his confinement, such as placement in solitary confinement.

The BCCLA will argue that a robust interpretation of the writ of habeas corpus is essential to maintaining the rule of law in the Canadian prison system. Locked out of sight and separated from family and community, prisoners are vulnerable to abuse. A succession of commissions of inquiry and correctional investigator reports, from the Arbour Commission that condemned the strip searching of women prisoners by male guards at the Kingston Prison for Women, to the 2008 report of the Correctional Investigator on the death of teenager Ashley Smith, have documented recurring human rights abuses in the correctional system. The writ of habeas corpus is necessary to safeguard the human rights and civil liberties of prisoners, and to ensure that the rule of law applied behind prison walls.

In a victory for prisoners’ rights, the Supreme Court of Canada granted prisoners wide scope to challenge their conditions of their imprisonment, such as placement in solitary confinement or transfer to a maximum-security facility. The Court determined that the writ of habeas corpus should be broadly construed to allow prisoners to bring a prompt and thorough challenge in provincial superior court. The Court stated that if prisoners are denied the ability to review a loss of liberty under an application for habeas corpus, they will have to wade through the lengthy grievance procedure in order to have their concerns heard. “No one should be deprived of their liberty without lawful authority,” Justice Louis LeBel said in an 8-0 ruling.

The BCCLA’s lawyers hailed the decision. Michael Jackson, declared the decision “an important counterbalance to a political agenda of undermining prisoners’ rights.” Joana Thackeray stated the decision stands for the message, “Your rights don’t stop at prison walls and that all Canadians certainly have a right to life, liberty and security of the person, and all Canadians includes Canadians in prisons.’”

The BCCLA is represented in this case by Professor Michael Jackson, Q.C. of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law and Joana Thackeray of Gall, Legge, Grant & Munroe LLP.

The BCCLA’s argument in this case is available here.